The Chicago Drill Rap scene lost a pioneer in 27-year-old Fredo Santana on Friday, January 19th. He died of a fatal seizure caused by organ failure, brought on by long-term lean use. Santana leaves behind an 8-month-old daughter and a promising career, as his independent label Savage Squad Records was beginning to garner widespread attention.
Sadly, Fredo isn’t the only rapper to succumb to lean addiction. Other high-profile rappers have faced run-ins with health issues related to habitual lean use. Lil Wayne was hospitalized in 2013 and again in 2016 for seizures reportedly following bouts of excessive lean consumption, despite publicly denouncing lean use in 2009. He has been on record saying that battling lean addiction is a difficult undertaking. As Boosie puts it, it’s “damn near impossible.” Legends in the Hip-Hop scene, including Pimp C, A$AP Yams, and DJ Screw himself all lost their lives to various complications as a direct result of lean use.
So how did we get here? While lean started out as a Houston-specific drink among musicians, rapper DJ Screw brought lean to the rest of the country’s attention by way of his growing fame in the ’90s and early ’00s, with his lyrics frequently mentioning the drink and its effects. In fact, lean use basically birthed the entire “Chopped and Screwed” subgenre of Hip-Hop, named for the feeling that overtakes someone on lean. Three 6 Mafia catapulted lean to a heightened level of popularity as 2000’s “Sippin’ On Some Sizzurp” received mainstream success, and is still banging in clubs all across the nation today, nearly two decades later.
However, while lean is credited for the stylings of the “Chopped and Screwed” movement, it is also held responsible for the loss of the aforementioned lives in the Industry. Additionally, many critics of lean use blame the cavalier attitude it has been met with in Rap lyrics for the current state of abuse of Xanax and other prescription drugs among younger emerging artists. This includes Lil Peep, who died of a drug overdose in 2017. Statistics show that nearly 30% of rap songs featured in 2017’s Billboard Hot 100 mention lean and/or its components, illustrating the promotion of lean abuse that continues to be an issue in rap music today.
Many artists are coming out in the week since Fredo’s passing, publicly denouncing lean use. DJ Mustard is among of them.
Other artists, like Chicago-based Vic Mensa, have paid tribute to Santana, but not without commentary on the state of rap with regard to the culture’s destruction by way of drug abuse.
Rest In Peace to a real chicago legend. it’s tragic that he’s gone before he really got to blossom into the man he could be. kicking it with him about a year ago I could really tell that his mentality had grown and he was far more progressive than the world really knew. Fredo was the spirit of the drill movement, & the chicago streets he embodied. Near the end of his life he made some statements that I think we all can REALLY LISTEN to and learn from. He spoke about his drug use and trying to escape the PTSD he had from growing up in the hood, surrounded by violence. I call it post traumatic streets disorder. we need to evaluate the conditions in our communities that raise young black men with more psychological issues than they can ever really unpack. we have to diagnose the system, not the symptoms. rest up to a real rockstar. 27
Vic’s tribute is unique in that it provides a possible solution, or at least a dialogue to be had about PTSD and its connection to drug use by young Black men. Most recreational drugs are viewed as a form of escapism, and lean appears to be no exception.
With a recent increase in the denouncement of the recreational drug use prevalent in Hip-Hop right now, let’s hope it doesn’t take another major loss like Fredo Santana, or Lil Peep to finally see some positive change in the community.
We’re sending prayers up for Fredo’s family, most especially, his baby girl. S.I.P. Fredo.
– Courney Quigley